Wherein we engage in a little cinematic mythbusting… Anyone who’s seen The Godfather remembers the famous scene where the movie producer finds a horse’s head in his bed, left there to persuade him to give the singer “Johnny Fontane” a juicy part in a big war movie. “Johnny” was assumed by many to be based on Frank Sinatra, and the “offer you can’t refuse” was read as the way he got his role in From Here to Eternity. Sinatra’s daughter Nancy was just one of many people who eventually busted this Hollywood/mafia rumor, and the real tale goes like this. From the time the movie rights to the source novel From Here to Eternity were bought in 1951, to the shoot a couple of years later, Columbia studios went through tons of casting possibilities, including Broderick Crawford, Glenn Ford and John Derek. For the part Sinatra eventually played, “Maggio,” director Fred Zinneman had already screen tested and pretty much settled on Eli Wallach. Sinatra had read the bestseller, and so strongly identified with “Maggio” that he was determined to get the part, and sent a series of telegrams to the film’s producer, director and studio president Harry Cohn (who, by the way didn’t even own a racehorse, to further put that Godfather connection to rest) pleading with them to just give him a tryout.
At that time, Sinatra had to beg for a shot because, after scaling the pop culture mountaintop as the generation’s biggest teenybopper idol, teens were then as now, notoriously fickle fans. They grew up and out of their Sinatra hysteria, times and tastes changed, and Sinatra entered a down period of his career and personal life. As the 1950s started, he had fewer hits, made a couple flop films and had gone through a scandalous divorce. Though he was then with Ava Gardner, who certainly did her part to get the studio to consider him for Eternity, he seemed to have neither traction nor attention in Hollywood. He was so low down the totem pole that Columbia finally agreed to a screen test if he could get back from Africa (where Ava was shooting Mogambo) on his own dime; when they did give him the role they paid him $1,000.00 a week. But he got his chance, and was great in the movie, drawing authenticity from his own recent experiences with defeat, despair, disappointment, and rejection; he went on to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, capping off one of the greatest comebacks ever seen in Hollywood.
See it MONDAY, NOVEMBER 12 @ 10:15 PM on TCM